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“POW!” Comics & mobile user experience design: “We live in an illustrated world”


I love comic books.  There is no problem too giant for a comic book to solve within its covers and the tales of superhuman abilities make everything seem possible. My love of comics is what drove me to become an illustrator and ultimately a user experience designer. Here are five ways that it inspires my approach to mobile app user interface design.

1. We live in an illustrated world.

Comics were once the ultimate escape from reality. Cheap, accessible and visually exciting – very much like mobile apps. Connecting the human to the mythical, characters often had animalistic qualities that subtly communicated whether they were heroes (say, with the characteristics of a lion) or villains (with the characteristics of say, a snake). Playing with readers’ subconscious ideas about the world allowed comic book artists to communicate without language. App design echos this challenge.

2. The best stories involve collaboration and teamwork.

Every Superman needs his Lois Lane and somehow Jean Grey just wouldn’t be Jean Grey without the X-Men.  Team work, collaboration and empathy is what takes app design from ho-hum to flawlessly elegant. I work at Marxent because it’s that kind of place. We collaborate and invest in a true creative process for each project.

3. Every mobile app has a complex backstory.

Look at any mobile application and what you’ll see is a polished experience that’s been vetted, tested and iterated.  No one ever thinks to themselves, “I wonder what this looked like in the first version” or “how did the designer communicate without any text?” That’s because a team of people have spent a lot of time considering, defining and creating the app that makes it onto your phone.

4. Designing a mobile app is the opposite of super-heroic.

Each app requires substantial effort, collaboration and a lot of iterations to end up looking and feeling magical.   From wireframes and app flowcharts to personas and visual styles, designing usable mobile experiences is a monumental task. Why all the work? Well, it turns out that there are no superpowers that open the lines of communication between developers and users to create seamless, fun-to-use user interfaces that make everyone involved look and feel like a genius. It all comes down to work, collaboration and thinking.

5. It is still kind of like saving the Earth from destruction.

The journey to great user experience design usually includes time with sheets of paper, pencil shavings, and problem solving. In my experience, the best way to create interactive engagement is through human activities, not pixel pushing. If you think that mobile apps are designed by a goofball using computer programs to do all of the creative thinking for him, you’re only partially right. If done well, it is a process that is anything but easy.

At the end of the day, every ounce of work is well spent. When an app is effortless to use and no one ever has to ask how it works, then we’ve done our job. Like a hero lifting a car with his bare hands or a man flying through the air encased in exoskeletal titanium, good design always looks easy.

Joe Johnson is a Graphic UI Designer at Marxent Labs who  loves comic books, video games  and a bunch of other cool stuff. He attended Ringling College of Art and Design and previously worked on  Microsoft’s Office 15 UI design team. Marxent @ Work is a monthly column on company culture written by Marxent team members.

Mobile user experience design jobs in Dayton, Ohio

If you have experience in mobile user experience and user  interface design and you’d like to learn more about working at Marxent, send your resume and work samples to Beck Besecker.

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